If any wine guy merits rock-star status, it’s David Mirassou, representing the sixth generation of America’s oldest winemaking clan. When he headed for Minneapolis, an airport security guard exclaimed, “I really like your Pinot Noir!” When he arrived at the Doubletree, a hotelier greeted him with, “I used to recommend your wines when I worked at” a local steakhouse. And what chef was more than eager to pair those wines in a tasting menu? Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery, a James Beard nominee.
It’s cool to be the oldest winery—and the first to choose California’s Central Coast to plant the prize grape cuttings Mirassou’s great-great-great-grandparents brought with them on the ship from France. But it’s even more vital to maintain that position on the cutting edge: first to use steel fermentation, field pressing, and permanent vineyard irrigation, for instance. “We balance technique with tradition, which gives us big shoes to fill,” Mirassou says.
In the end, all that really matters is what’s in the bottle. Here, it’s wines that showcase each grape’s varietal character, unmasked by mystique: food-friendly wines that please today’s consumers, at—bonus!—most affordable prices. While the winery’s literature listed $12 as suggested selling price, I found them discounted to $6 during a recent big-name retailer’s sale.
As Becker brought forth a duck and radicchio salad, Mirassou poured his Pinot Grigio—crisp and acidic enough to balance the bounty of fruit. With the tagliatelle and its foie gras meatballs (!), we sipped Mirassou’s Sauvignon Blanc, an antigrassy example of the grape, easy on the mouth, and hints of melon and grapefruit on the palate.
Tuna next, a perfect match with the Chardonnay—in other words, you’re not drinking oak, you’re sipping fruit (peaches, pineapple, nectarines) in a well-balanced wine offering creamy mouth-feel, yet bearing enough backbone to hold your interest.
What to pair with Becker’s wacky-but-wonderful marriage of sweetbreads and porcini in a clam-based marinara? Well, how about the Pinot Noir? It’s lush with the tastes and aromas of red fruits: strawberries, cherries, currants. Drink it ASAP, as Mirassou recommends, but it’s capable of three years’ aging, too. (Who’d want to wait?)
Becker’s fabled lamb scottadito proved the perfect foil for the Merlot, which balances cherries with a hint of spice. “Merlot taught the California wine industry a lot,” Mirassou notes—and, let’s add, made wine-lovers out of Bud drinkers, too.
Finally, a sirloin spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, black pepper, and mustard seed, along with a wine gutsy enough to stand up to the challenge: the Cabernet Sauvignon—no surprise. You’ll encounter black cherries and dark chocolate on the palate, along with hints of vanilla and toasted oak.
Bottom line, according to Mirassou: “Our wines are easy to drink.” I’ll lift a glass to that!